Gore initiatives target pollution, energy

Monday, June 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Bush camp says plans to clean air, cut reliance on foreign oil aren't new

WASHINGTON – Wrapping up his three-week "Prosperity and Progress Tour," Vice President Al Gore will propose a multibillion-dollar set of initiatives to curtail pollution and wean the nation from its dependence on foreign oil, campaign aides said Sunday.

The proposals, to be outlined in speeches beginning Tuesday in battleground states across the nation's midsection where gasoline prices have been particularly high, are built around federal tax breaks, grants and other incentives.

"You can have a good economy and a good environment, too," said a Gore adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The initiatives are linked under five broad goals:

Long-term relief from the nation's dependence on imported oil.

Protection of children and the elderly, who suffer most from asthma and other respiratory ailments, from the threat of pollution.

Development of technologies to save energy and reduce pollution, while creating new high-wage jobs.

Curtailment of growing threats posed by global warming.

Prevention of electric brownouts by increasing the reliability of the nation's power grids.

Mr. Gore's press secretary, Chris Lehane, confirmed that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee would offer a "bold new plan to address energy and environmental issues," but declined to provide details.

"The entrenched interests want to protect the status quo, and the apologists for the interests say that we simply cannot have a clean environment and affordable energy at the same time," Mr. Lehane said. "They say we can't do this. Al Gore says we can."

Gore campaign aides said his proposals would be "market-driven," but they would not estimate the government cost beyond saying it would be in the multibillion-dollar range. They are affordable because of federal budget surpluses, the aides said.

Consumer incentives

Mr. Gore, who discusses energy and environmental policy in his book, Earth in the Balance, envisions saving energy and cutting pollution through a mix of incentives, including tax breaks, loans, grants and bonds.

For instance, the adviser said Mr. Gore is supporting not only incentives for the auto industry to develop new super-energy-efficient cars, but also for consumers to buy them.

His initiatives also are aimed at spurring use of solar energy and the development of agricultural biomass fuels, and at cleaning up old electric power plants and making their distribution systems more reliable.

He also wants to develop more and better mass transit and new technologies to combat the effects of global warming, aides said.

Many of the proposals have been suggested during the two-term Clinton administration. And the campaign of Republican rival George W. Bush was quick to belittle Mr. Gore's latest ideas.

"After eight years of weak leadership, Al Gore is now offering nothing new," Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett said Sunday.

Responding, the Gore adviser said the vice president is intent on building on administration policies, expanding some of them and offering innovations.

"Gore has pushed for a lot of these as vice president," he said. "But when you're president, you get to make more of the choices."

Avoiding confrontation

As he unveils his proposals, Mr. Gore is expected to avoid directly challenging Mr. Bush, as he has before, said an aide who also spoke on condition of anonymity. Instead, Mr. Gore is expected to broadly target the oil industry and other special interests.

During the last two weeks, Mr. Gore has detailed a new Retirement Savings Plus program and other health care and education initiatives. Still, he's had trouble staying on his message because of distractions, including a change in his campaign's high command and renewed calls for an independent counsel to investigate his role in raising funds for the 1996 campaign.

The final issues of Mr. Gore's Prosperity and Progress Tour that began June 13 in New York are being offered as soaring gasoline prices have become a front-burner campaign issue. Last week, Mr. Gore called repeatedly for tough investigations by the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies to determine whether there was any price fixing by the nation's big oil companies.

Oil companies' denial

With such investigations under way, the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the large oil companies, has denied wrongdoing, blaming the high prices on distribution problems and the use of federally mandated reformulated gasoline.

Mr. Bush, a former oil industry executive, also has urged a thorough inquiry. But he suggested as well that the Clinton administration is responsible because it has no coherent energy policy.

Since the inquiries began, Mr. Gore noted that some gasoline prices have fallen in the Midwest. But he said that is not enough.

"The recent figures showing a 500 percent increase in oil company profits for the first part of this year is a very troubling bit of news," he said Thursday at a news conference in suburban Minneapolis.

"The fact that the prices have gone up so high so quickly means that something has to be done," he said, adding that consumers now "need somebody willing to fight back."